Big News Part Two: Madagascar

Hi there, it’s been a minute hey? We’ll be back to regularly scheduled Greece posts shortly, however I’m behind on everything due to some Major Life Changes. As of last Thursday, I no longer live in London. I’m home in Boston for a few (amazing) weddings, and next week I’ll be getting on a plane and arriving three days later in Antananarivo. Why you ask? I’m moving to Madagascar.

The when

I fly out next Sunday night, and arrive midday Wednesday. The contract is for 12 months to start, which feels great professionally and long personally. This is without a doubt the most exciting, terrifying, adventurous thing I’ve ever done. I vary between confidence and fear, along with overwhelming sadness at leaving Gareth (OH GOD AND BRADY), both of whom I’ve already had to say goodbye. But it is an incredible career move – and in that respect I’m nothing but excited.

The What

I’ll be a Project Development Officer for Community Health in Fort Dauphin, which is on the south-eastern coast of Madagascar. I’ll be working on project design and development, funding applications, donor reporting, and implementation for three projects – HIV in both rural and urban settings and WASH in schools.

MPH

ALSO, I was accepted to begin my Masters of Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Classes are through distance learning, so I can complete the work online while living in the field in Mada. It’ll take 2-3 years to complete, and I’m honestly shocked my degree in writing/TV got me into LSHTM, as it’s one of the top programmes in the world!

So by this time next year, I’ll be halfway through a masters and have a year in the field as an Officer on my CV. I’ve felt this urgency to progress as I changed careers quite late, and haven’t been so pleased to still be an assistant at 28. But now (I hope) the ball is finally rolling and things are going to only get more interesting from here. These are two things I’ve been trying to do for years, and I am SO happy it’s all happening!

What next

I’ll be able to check off number 12 and 23 of my 30 before 30, which are probably the most important ones on there. I’ll be posting more frequently as this is definitely a time I’ll want to look back on years from now. I’ll be talking about how to survive long distance, the preparation needed before moving to a developing country, and once I arrive, all things Madagascar. I’m so excited for this next chapter!

Bo-Kaap Colors, Cape Town

4 days in cape town

And then WE WERE THERE! It felt like we’d been on our way for weeks, and suddenly Table Mountain appeared before our eyes (on fire from an arsonist no less). We’d made it!Table Mountain on fire

I didn’t know what to expect from Cape Town, other than to love it. And love it I did. I could have spent weeks getting to know that city, and I firmly hope to return one day to do just that. We stayed in Salt River which is up and coming and maybe a bit more dangerous than we had anticipated (per our Uber drivers, actually staying there felt quite safe).

By this point of the trip we were ready to relax, so our days were a lot less packed than those leading up to it. If you’re looking for a chilled out itinerary that still fits in the major things, look no further!

Four Day Cape Town Itinerary

Day One

Cape Town

After hanging with the penguins, returning our rental, and settling into our Airbnb, most of the day was gone. We wanted to get out and do something fun with our afternoon, and a great place to get acclimated is at the Victoria & Albert Waterfront. There are loads of restaurants, many with views, and it’s quite a touristy part of the city. It’s fun for an afternoon, and a great place to watch the sunset, but I wouldn’t recommend more than a few hours there. It’s a bit like a giant outdoor mall. We had dinner on the roof deck of Harbour House which was delicious, and had great outdoor seating. (There’s also a bookstore at the Waterfront with really cheap Travel Catan, if you’re into that!). This is a great first stop, first to get it out of the way but second to ease into the city if you’ve just arrived.

Day two

The next morning grab some breakfast at Food Lover’s Market before meeting up with the free walking tour which starts just around the corner at Motherland Coffee. They have a few tours–we did the Historic one which we loved, though I’m sure they’d all be great. You’ll get some history and great insight into the city, and see most of the major sights! Prior to this trip I wasn’t big on tours, but I’m beginning to change my mind. This ends in Company’s Garden, where G and I sat at the café and had lunch, read a bit, and played some cards. It was lovely.

Company's Garden, Cape Town

Company's Garden, Cape Town

After the tour, make your way back to Greenmarket Square and explore the market. We went on a bit of a buying frenzy getting gifts for friends (and ourselves). We needed another bag, as we had somehow collected way more than we could fit in our two backpacks for the journey home. We ended up getting an incredible elephant painting, a cute little backpack, a few bowls, salad spoons, magnets, and a big canvas print – and we got to barter, which I am a pro at (thanks to Katie and our time in Guatemala) and Gareth is honestly TERRIBLE at. Even so, we got some pretty good deals.

From there head to your accommodation to drop off your loot, before catching an uber to Reverie Social Table, a highly recommended dinner place. It only seats about 16 people each night, and it’s a social experience as much as a culinary one.

Reverie Social Table

Get to know the other guests, have far too much (delicious) wine, and eat some of the best food in Cape Town. I definitely recommend this place and its adorable chef, Julia Hattingh.

Day three

Wake up early, grab breakfast, and head straight to Table Mountain. Be ready to hike, and though harder than (I) expected, it is so worth it! If you’re able, I highly recommend skipping the cable car and hiking up yourself – it’s such an incredible feeling.

Lion's Head

Hiking Hiking Table Mountain, Cape Town

Once finished, jump in a cab to Bo Kaap, which is close by and just as incredible in person as it is in pictures. There’s so much to see, and some cute shops (I got an adorable terrarium from Angels+Earth).

Terrariums, Cape Town

The same walking tour group offers tours of Bo Kaap, and while we didn’t have time to do it, I bet it would be great!

Bo-Kaap Colors, Cape Town Bo-Kaap Colors, Cape Town Bo-Kaap Colors, Cape Town Bo-Kaap Colors, Cape Town

Just a few minutes’ walk from Bo Kaap is Bree Street, which has some of the best food in Cape Town. The hardest part is deciding where to go. We chose to have tapas at La Parada which was SO good, especially the Pork Belly and Cauliflower Puree, but I’ve also heard great things about Bocca and Villa 47. If you’re into nightlife and big on food, I’d stay around Bree street so you can try a different place each night. After a few Spanish wines, mosey down the street to Sky Bar which has a rooftop bar with incredible views of Table Mountain. It’s the perfect way to end the day, sipping on a mojito, watch the sun set around the iconic mountain you’ve just climbed.

Sky Bar, Cape Town

Day Four

Be better than us and plan ahead, so you can spend the morning actually visiting Robben Island instead of trying unsuccessfully to get last minute tickets. We tried craigslist, calling hotels, and going in person in case there were any no shows, with no luck. Because you’ll already have tickets, spend the day taking a tour of the island.

You’ll notice there aren’t any Township Tours on this itinerary. Gareth was pretty against them, as he sees it as paying money to look at poor people. I know there’s a lot more to the tours than that – history, education, development, etc, but I understood his hesitation and agreed it wasn’t the right way to get involved. Instead we decided to go into Langa Township to Mzansi Restaurant, which was 100% the right choice and such an incredible experience. We were nervous to go but it was completely unfounded – don’t miss out on this! Read more about our experience here (coming soon).

Mzansi, Langa Township, Cape Town, South Africa

Tips

  • Book Robben Island tickets at least a week in advance. It was unfortunately sold out by the time we arrived in Cape Town, and we were so disappointed to miss it.
  • It’s not necessary to rent a car, Uber is a great way to chat to some locals (though most of ours weren’t actually from South Africa) and is super cheap!
  • Get a sim card at the airport to make getting around South Africa incredibly easy from the first moment.

Where to Stay in (lower) Kruger

I did a lot of research before our trip on where to stay, and first narrowed it down to lower Kruger based on the current drought and where animals are most likely to be, and then finally decided to stay at Lower Sabie. It was a relief to have picked, but the relief only lasted a few minutes because when I went to book – three months before our trip – it was already sold out. Tip number one: book early!

My second choice was Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp, which still had a permanent tent available on our dates, so I quickly booked in. During our time in Kruger, we visited both Lower Sabie and Skukuza, as well as staying in Crocodile Bridge, and they are three quite different camps that I think would suit different people.

Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp

Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp Kruger

I chose Crocodile Bridge because I knew Gareth would like the more authentic feel. Crocodile Bridge doesn’t have a restaurant or pool, and only a little shop. You get a personal grill (remember to bring charcoal!) and a fridge, and otherwise it’s mostly just you on your own figuring things out. It feels like a real adventure and you never forget where you are or what you’re doing. I quite liked staying there, as most of the people around us were campers who’d been all over Africa on safari, but if I hadn’t had Gareth I think I would have felt isolated and overwhelmed. If you’re looking for a more “in the bush” feel, this is a good camp for you. It’s quiet, you’re roughing it, and coming home and grilling our dinner and hanging out just the two of us was really nice after long days of driving. It was easy not to cook for lunch because we were always on drives and could pop into a larger camp, but you must be back inside your camp by a certain time (during March, when we were there, it was 6:00 pm) which meant you had to eat dinner wherever you were staying.

Skukuza

Skukuza is the place to go for amenities. It is basically its own town. It has multiple restaurants, a spa, a large shop, a post office, even a doctor’s office! It’s huge, the closest thing to a resort, and where to go if the idea of being far from civilization makes you nervous. (If you go, make sure you go to the steakhouse and get their special – it is SO good.)  If what you’re looking for out of your safari is loads of big game drives, followed by an incredible steak dinner and a massage, Skukuza is for you.

Lower Sabie

Lower Sabie was a blend of the other two camps. Like Skukuza, tt had a restaurant, deck overlooking the river, a pool, and quite a big shop. We ended up going there for things we hadn’t packed thinking Crocodile Bridge may have (silverware, plates, etc), and had at least one meal there most days.

Verdict

If we were to go back to this same area of Kruger, my choice would still be Lower Sabie. The manageable size paired with the option not to cook every night, huge shop full of all the things we didn’t have, and the pool give it the edge to me. Crocodile Bridge and Skukuza are two extremes and would definitely appeal to certain people, but if you’re looking for the average, it’s Lower Sabie. That said, this is a personal choice based on what you’re looking to get out of your Safari, and even if the one you want is booked, they are all great in their own way.

Lion's Head, Cape Town

Hiking Table Mountain

When we first decided to go to South Africa, but before we had started planning, only one thing was certain – we’d be hiking Table Mountain. As we both love hiking, there was no way we could get to such an iconic mountain and take a cable car to the top.Table Mountain, Cape Town

Then we actually got there and man was it tall. I’m not going to lie, the first 10 minutes or so, I complained pretty much non-stop. I was hot, I was tired, I was sunburnt — bless Gareth for not leaving me behind and only mocking me a little.

Hiking Table Mountain, Cape Town

Then we actually got to the start of the Platteklip Gorge and I was too out of breath to keep complaining! It is steps the whole way up, under the baking sun. About halfway through I was using my arms as well as my legs to get me over each step. It wasn’t easy! (Unless you’re Gareth and then everything is easy!)

Hiking Hiking Table Mountain, Cape TownHiking Table Mountain, Cape Town

We took a lot of beaks, every time we reached shade. Our sun burns from our hike in Storms River and the fact that we were still on Malarone meant that halfway up my arms started to blister, and by the time we reached the top I was seriously concerned about the state of my skin. (I applied factor 50 about every five minutes, it was no match for the sun. Eventually I gave in and wore Gareth’s sweaty shirt.)

Hiking Hiking Table Mountain, Cape Town

so close to the top 🙂

Getting to the top was INCREDIBLE though, and made each difficult step worth it. It took us about two hours (I stopped a lot), and we hung out at the top for about the same amount of time. There’s a cafe/grocery store up there, as well as a little shop with souvenirs. There’s even a mailbox, where I sent myself and my momma a letter!

Top of Table Mountain, Cape Town Top of Table Mountain, Cape Town Top of Table Mountain, Cape Town Top of Table Mountain, Cape Town Dassie at the Top of Table Mountain, Cape Town

We took in the views before finding shade, some beverages, and whipping out our trusty cards. It was such a lovely afternoon, marred only by the cable car down, which was too high for my liking. If you’re in relatively good shape, definitely consider climbing to the top. It’s hard but worth it and far more rewarding than standing in a line and letting an elevator do the work for you!

view from Table Mountain, South AfricaLion's Head, Cape Town

More Options

For keen hikers, there are many more options than just the Platteklip Gorge.

  • Lion’s Head offers incredible views of Table Mountain, takes about 90 minutes, and is not terribly difficult.
  • Skeleton Gorge is another path up the eastern side of the mountain that starts in the beautiful Kirstenbosch Gardens. It takes about 4 – 4.5 hours
Betty's Bay, South Africa

Stony Point Nature Reserve – Penguins!

After our incredible day on the wine tram, we woke up early to head to our final destination, Cape Town! However, first we had to stop along the way Stony Point Nature Reserve in Betty’s Bay. We’d decided we weren’t going to make the day trip to The Cape of Good Hope, and you know I wasn’t going to miss penguins.

Betty's Bay, South Africa

Stony Point Nature Reserve

Stony Point Nature Reserve is filled to the brim with penguins, and I had no idea how awkward and hilarious these adorable little birds are.

penguin in Stony Point Nature Reserve, South Africa

I could have watched them waddling and hopping around for hours. And Stony Point Nature Reserve is so cute, it would be a lovely place to spend an afternoon.penguins in Stony Point Nature Reserve, South Africapenguins in Stony Point Nature Reserve, South AfricaShipwreck and penguins in Stony Point Nature Reserve, South Africa   penguins in Stony Point Nature Reserve, South Africa

Alas we only had about twenty minutes with them before we had to get back on the road. Luckily, the drive fromStony Point Nature Reserve is perfectly picturesque — (I MEAN REALLY).

Betty's Bay, South Africa Stony Point Nature Reserve, South Africa Stony Point Nature Reserve, South Africa

tips

  • There’s free parking (and a restaurant), so no need to worry about amenities
  • Entry is 20R for adults (about 1.15 GBP)
  • If you can, save enough time to pull off the road and jump in the (very inviting) water!
  • If you don’t have time to make it to the Cape of Good Hope, Stony Point Nature Reserve is a great alternative to ensure you get some penguin time. It’s one of the largest penguin breeding colonies of African penguins in the world.